What is the plot of ‘Shaky Shivers?’
After finding herself bitten by a mysterious animal, Lucy (Brooke Markham) becomes convinced that she will transform into a fearsome werewolf. Joined by her best friend Karen (VyVy Nguyen), the two embark on a wild adventure filled with magic and mayhem, as they look to do battle with a throat-slashing creature ripped right out of an 80s horror movie.
Who is in the cast of Shaky Shivers?’
Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with actor turned director Sung Kang about his work on ‘Shaky Shivers,’ why he wanted to direct it, casting Brooke Markham and VyVy Nguyen, the tone of the movie, working with his crew on the production and post-production, what he learned about filmmaking, and how his years as an actor prepared him to direct this project.
Moviefone: To begin with, what was your first reaction to the screenplay and why did you want to make this particular movie for your directorial debut?
Sung Kang: So the writers, Andy McAllister and Aaron Strongoni wrote ‘Shaky Shivers,’ and they were on their way to Austin to get an award for the screenplay. Aaron Strongoni and I had been working together and developing scripts for the last 15 years. I asked him, “Hey, so you’re moonlighting. What’s up with this? What’s this script that you wrote?” And he said, “I have a love affair with the horror genre.” He and Andy did this documentary about Gabe Bartalos, a short film about Gabe Bartalos and his journey as a practical makeup effects artist. They just fell in love with him, his spirit and this art form, and this craft is slowly dying in Hollywood. It’s being taken over by technology. So in honor of him, they wrote ‘Shaky Shivers.’ Then also the characters of Lucy and Karen were inspired and motivated by Andy’s desire to share practical makeup effects of his era, because we’re children of the 80’s. He had an eight or nine year old daughter at the time, and he didn’t want to scare the her, but he wanted to share this love affair for that horror genre with her. So I love that. My north star of the thing that woke me up in the morning to go, I want to direct this film, is also the relationship between Karen and Lucy. At the end of the movie, what a great lesson that these two characters, these two friends go through this journey together, bumbling through this adventure, but at the end of it, they’re okay with who they are. They’re comfortable in their skin, and if you have one sidekick, one best friend, a partner in crime, then you’re good. I felt like, what a great message. Especially today with all the pressures of social media, trying to be perfect and being popular. I fell in love with that theme. So that’s what inspired me to get on board and try to make ‘Shaky Shivers’ happen.
MF: What was the casting process like for you as a director and why were Brooke Markham and VyVy Nguyen the right actresses for these roles?
SK: It was super challenging. Casting is everything. I was taught young as an actor that the casting will make or break your movie. Because of the limited resources we had to put in front of the camera, I knew that I would have to lean on the talent and especially Lucy and Karen. I mean, it was so crucial. But fortunately with Brooke’s casting, a couple of the producers had worked with her prior and they presented the project they worked on together, and then we met and instantly I was like, “We have our Lucy, so it should be easy from then on.” But Karen was super challenging to cast. I pretty much was stuck. I almost gave up and I was like, “I don’t know how we’re going to make this work.” A friend of mine had done a thesis short at UCLA film school years prior, and he came over for dinner. I was telling him the struggles of finding Karen for ‘Shaky Shivers.’ I started describing what the character was, and he goes, “I have the perfect actress. VyVy was in my short.” I wasn’t familiar with her work. He sent me the short, and then we did a chemistry test with Brooke and VyVy, and it was there. You just know. It’s because a role for an actor or an actress is like a perfectly tailored suit. Yes, many thespians could come in and of course they could play the role, but it’s like buying a jacket off the rack. You know when it’s a perfectly tailored character for that talent, and we just knew that it could have made or broken the film. If you really pay attention, we have very little, even in the ice cream shop, we have no ice cream! We couldn’t even afford real ice cream in the shop. It’s an ice cream shop and there’s no ice cream! But it’s because of these two actresses and the other cast members like Jimmy Bellinger and Herschel Sparber that came in and lifted the words off the page and then you’re focused on them. So you don’t notice until I mention that we don’t have all these things because of the performances. So we were lucky that we had the cast that we had.
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MF: Can you talk about the tone you were going for with this film, and were there any other movies within this genre that inspired you?
SK: Well, definitely the practical effects was an homage to the 80’s horror movies that we would go and rent at the video store. What I was going for was comedy that was in the spirit of ‘Bill & Ted’s‘ or ‘Wayne’s World’ in the universe of monsters. ‘Ghost World,’ if you will. So to me, when people describe this as a horror comedy, I actually think it’s a comedy horror. I deliberately tried not to make the movie too scary, but some people have a low tolerance for spook. But I think all the monster stuff is just hilarious. So that was the spirit of the world that I was going for? It was like ‘Rushmore’ or ‘Election, ‘Ghost World,’ ‘Bill & Ted,’ and ‘Wayne’s World,’ again. So I felt like the chemistry between Karen and Lucy was crucial. I mean, essentially they are two doofuses trying to find their way through the evening, but in the monster’s world. So I don’t think this is a horror movie at all.
MF: Finally, what was the experience of working with your department heads on both production and post-production like for you as a director, and how did your years of experience as an actor prepare you to make this film?
SK: Well, I realized that I know nothing and I have so much to learn. I think directing, you just assume that some of these elements are really easy, but they’re not. As an actor, you get to be a part of pre-production a bit. Then of course, production. But post-production was a total different language that I did not understand. The only currency I had going into this film were the people I surrounded myself with. So I had great producers. The writers were so supportive of me. Of course, the cast was supportive of me and then the crew because we were in the height of the pandemic. I was so humbled and honored that people would come at that time in their lives to come and play with us and to risk their health, to sacrifice their time with their family and try to help me execute this vision. Then in every aspect of this film and the process, even going to get the camera package at Panavision, what I learned and what I will forever use and will be a part of how I approach filmmaking is humble yourself and keep your ego at the door. It’s okay to be open and admit what you don’t know, and then people will come and help you. When we went to Panavision, I said, “I know nothing about glass. I know nothing about lenses.” I had mentors there that came and basically went through a masterclass with me. I’ve never been part of sound mixing before. Gary Bourgeois (the re-recording mixer), who’s a legend in his own right and has worked on Oscar nominated and Oscar winning films, I asked him, “Gary, why did you come onto this little movie?” He said, “Because when I first met you, you just kept telling me that you knew nothing, and that you wanted to pick my brain and ask me questions. That’s why I wanted to come and help you. Don’t ever lose that kid. This town, it’s like everyone came as dreamers, and when somebody comes in pretending that they know everything, it’s off-putting and it’s a turnoff.” I realized that is my greatest currency. As a filmmaker, if I can continue with that ethos, I know that I’ll just continue to be able to work and learn constantly. That’s the beauty of filmmaking I think, once you feel like you know everything, it’s probably time to pack it in, right? Because there’s always evolution. Working with other talent like VyVy and Brooke, there’s so many things that I’ve adopted from them as an actor for when I go in front of the camera again. So I think if you keep that open and that is your north star, there’s always something to learn, and be grateful for the people contributing on your movie, then that family, that army is capable of anything.
Please note: Cineverse is an independent, non-AMPTP affiliated distributor. ‘Shaky Shivers’ is in good standing with requirements set forth by SAG-AFTRA and the WGA.
Other Movies Featuring Sung Kang:
Sung Kang, director of ‘Shaky Shivers,’ will be doing in-person Q&A’s at the following screenings:
Wednesday, September 20 at 7pm PST
Regal LA Live
1000 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Purchase tickets: Here!
Thursday, September 21 at 7pm PST
Universal Cinema AMC at CityWalk Hollywood
100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California 91608
Purchase tickets: Here!